The man known as ‘Jihadi John’, who appeared in Islamic state online execution videos of journalists and aid workers, has been identified by the BBC and Washington Post as Mohammed Emwazi.
The Post said his identity has been known for some time by British intelligence and police bodies.
The US newspaper’s article says attempts had been made by the British Security Service MI5 to recruit him.
The Guardian newspaper, which often works closely with the Washington Post, claims that attempts have been made to cleanse the Internet of actual images of Emwazi and information about his relatives and life in Britain.
Emwazi, who is Kuwaiti born and came to London as a child, is said to have developed a hatred of Britain when MI5 thwarted his attempts to travel abroad.
The revelations by the Washington Post and BBC gave the green light for media organisations to publish his identity.
Downing Street in lobby briefings refused to confirm or deny that Emwazi was ‘Jihadi John’ citing the need to respect ongoing investigations.
The sensitivity of the unmasking of Emwazi is indicated by the statement issued by the Met Police:
Commander Richard Walton of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) said:
We have previously asked media outlets not to speculate about the details of our investigation on the basis that life is at risk.
We are not going to confirm the identity of anyone at this stage or give an update on the progress of this live counter-terrorism investigation.
It’s claimed he was interviewed by the Independent newspaper in the identity of Muhammad ibn Muazzam in a 2010 article about MI5 agents or officers allegedly harassing British muslims when on holiday in Africa.
The media have descended on the last known address of Emwazi in West London seeking information from neighbours.
Plain clothes police officers had been seen this morning outside the council house where his relatives are said to be still living.
The Washington Post claimed:
…friends, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation, believe that Emwazi started to radicalize after a planned safari in Tanzania following his graduation from the University of Westminster.
‘Jihadi John’ always spoke with an identifiable London accent and it would appear that media outlets in Britain knew his identify but respected a request to withhold it ‘for operational reasons.’
He has appeared in the execution videos of British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines.
The United States authorities are seeking him for the murder of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
He appeared in the execution film of Japanese reporter Kenji Goto and many others featuring the deaths of Syrian soldiers.
These CNN background reports broadcast in November 2014 and January 2015 suggest that Mohammed Emwazi’s identity and background has been known to western security agencies.
In September last year Sky News produced a feature endeavouring to find out if face recognition technology could digitally and by algorithms unmask ‘Jihadi John.’
After today’s revelations it may not be very long before a media outlet publishes an actual image of the unmasked face of Emwazi.
The Guardian has used sound processing technology to try and offer a version of how he would sound without the muffled and distorted filter used in the execution videos.
Emwazi’s background story is likely to fuel political questions about how somebody suspected of extremist views, arrested on one occasion, and asked to work for MI5 as an agent, was able to slip out of Britain in 2013 to reach Syria.
In his career as an apparent global online executioner he has helped the development of a new media terror phenomenon that has given new meaning to the concept of propaganda and information terrorism.
The University of Westminster has issued a statement about Emwazi’s connection with them as a student:
A Mohammed Emwazi left the University six years ago. If these allegations are true, we are shocked and sickened by the news. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families.
We have students from 150 countries and their safety is of paramount concern. With other universities in London, we are working to implement the government’s Prevent strategy to tackle extremism.
We are setting up a dedicated pastoral team to provide advice and support. In the meantime, we urge any students who are concerned to contact the Student Support and Well-being team.
A ‘Human Rights Group’ called CAGE held a press conference today at which ‘Researcher Director’ Asim Qureshi described Emwazi ‘as a beautiful young man.’
He seemed emotional when he went on to describe him as ‘extremely kind, extremely gentle…most humble young person I ever knew.’
Qureshi had known him for two years before he left Britain for Syria.
Earlier he recorded a Youtube video seeking to explain how the man now being hunted as a multiple murderer had ‘become radicalized:’
Another member of CAGE, Cerie Bullivant, walked out of a live interview with Sky News after anchor Kate Burley posed robust questions on whether he was prepared to condemn Emwazi’s actions:
The Daily Mail became the first British newspaper to publish online what it claims to be an image of Emwazi as a primary school pupil at St Mary Magdalene Church of England primary school in Maida Vale, West London.
17 year old Bethany Haines, the daughter of aid worker David Haines, one of the killer’s beheading victims, told ITV News she would only ‘feel closure and relief once there’s a bullet between his eyes’.
The family of the American journalist he killed Steven Sotloff told the BBC that they ‘want to sit in a courtroom, watch him sentenced and see him sent to a super-max prison.’